David Schuster felt like he was living in an alternate reality. Like everyone else on the planet, his life had been upended and nothing about it was the same. It was as if everything was off-kilter – tilted slightly so that he was always on the verge of falling.
Humans by nature are social animals and no amount of technology could substitute for the simple reassurance of a human touch. Social distancing might help to prevent spread of the virus, but it wasn’t normal. FaceTime with his boyfriend was little better than talking to a robot and living his life, 24/7 within the same ‘four walls’ was driving him nuts.
The apartment he shared with his mother was rather spacious for Manhattan at 1600 square feet. It was located in the Hillman Cooperative on the Lower East Side and although not nearly as nice as some of the other co-ops, which had doormen, parking and other amenities, the residents of Hillman got more bang for the buck. Otherwise, the Schusters could have never afforded it. They bought a three-bedroom apartment with the intention of having another one or two kids, but that was before Adam Schuster, Dave’s dad, was killed in Afghanistan.
Dave’s mom, Sandy, was a nurse and until recently, she worked for a New York University physician practice at Langone Medical Center on First Avenue. She was always home by six o’clock and most of the time, Dave would have finished most of his homework by then. Since starting middle school, he always had dinner waiting when she got home and afterwards, they watched a program or a movie on TV together, or sometimes they had other plans.
Now, in the face of a global pandemic, the clinic only handled urgent visits and so she had been assigned elsewhere, where the need was greater. Bellevue was the oldest hospital in America and a Level One trauma center, but ever since the pandemic started to overwhelm the area hospitals, it had become a dedicated hospital for patients with Covid-19. While most of Americans were doing their best to avoid exposure to the virus, Sandy Schuster put herself in harm’s way, every single day. And because the need was so great, she routinely worked double and even triple shifts, with scarcely a day off. For now, she had to be a nurse first and a mother second. She only hoped that Dave would understand.
With all the schools closed, however, Dave was at home alone most of the time. He was fourteen and finishing up eighth grade at the Salk School of Science, an elite middle school that was a joint venture between the New York City schools and NYU Medical Center. Since the end of March, classes had been held entirely online. Because it was an advanced middle school, most of the coursework was done by independent study, with weekly rather than daily lectures on each subject and extended office hours online with the teachers. Unfortunately, very few laboratory experiments, which had occupied a significant portion of the school day, could be done at home. For the most part the students were forced to design them online and were then provided with hypothetical data, comparable to what they might have collected had they done the actual experiment. They then analyzed the data and wrote up a report.
What Dave missed most about school, however, was the daily interaction with his peers. He loved doing the experiments with his lab partner, participating in class discussions and sitting down with friends at lunch to shoot the shit. He missed riding the bus and sitting with his best friend, Robin Arens, talking about anything and everything on the way to and from school every day. Sharing a love of cosmology, they often discussed the Big Bang, the role of dark matter and the very origins of life itself. Most of all, however, he missed his boyfriend, Josh Arens, Robin’s brother.
Dave met Josh at Robin’s thirteenth birthday party. Josh was almost exactly the same age as Dave, but because of a fluke in the school cutoff date, Josh was already in high school. Josh was a freshman at Stuyvesant, one of New York’s elite public specialty high schools. Admission to Stuyvesant was by exam and although the 700 slots available for freshmen at Stuyvesant might sound like a lot, out of more than thirty thousand eighth-graders who were brave enough to take the exam, six thousand were offered a place in one of the specialty high schools, with only the top-scoring students getting a spot at Stuyvesant. Dave was very fortunate indeed to have been offered a place in the freshman class at Stuyvesant for next year – assuming there would be school next year.
Dave couldn’t help but smile when he thought about Josh. They hadn’t known each other very long at all, but in that time they’d become very close. Dave fell hard for Josh – hard enough to come out to his mom – hard enough to come out to everyone. They’d already been intimate and were just beginning to have regular sleepovers when the whole world went on lockdown. Dave missed the intimacy and the make-out sessions, but even more than that, he missed just being with Josh. They spent hours FaceTiming throughout the day now, but without physical contact, it felt to both of them like being in prison. At least Josh had his father and three sisters with him. Dave was all alone. He was a small boy in a large apartment, with far too much time on his hands.
The bottom fell out of Dave’s life in the early morning hours of a day in mid-April, although Dave wouldn’t find out about it until several hours later.
Sandy was working the second of two straight shifts in one of the new makeshift ICUs. She’d been feeling unusually fatigued but chalked it up to her perpetual lack of sleep. She became concerned when she realized that she couldn’t smell the pungent, antiseptic smells that were usual in Intensive Care. Remembering that the loss of smell and taste could be a sign of Covid-19, she grabbed an infrared thermometer and found her temperature was a worrisome 38.2 degrees Celsius, which was equivalent to 100.9 degrees Fahrenheit. She informed the charge nurse for her unit, but they were already short-staffed and so she hunkered down for the rest of the shift. By the time it ended, she was starting to feel tightness in her chest and she was mildly short of breath, as if she’d just run a mile.
She grabbed the nearest pulse-oximeter and found that her oxygen saturation level was only 62%. She rechecked her temperature and found it was up to 38.7 degrees Celsius, or 101.7 degrees Fahrenheit. When she informed the shift supervisor, he didn’t even bother sending her to the Emergency Department, which would have been the standard procedure, even for hospital employees. Instead, he asked one of the ICU attending physicians to take a look at Sandy, and after a brief examination, she in turn called admitting herself. Within ten minutes, Sandy Schuster was admitted to one of the few remaining empty beds left in the unit where she’d just worked.
With the flurry of activity surrounding her admission and her rapidly deteriorating health, her cries to let her use her phone to contact her son went unheeded. In the face of worsening blood oxygen levels in spite of being given ever greater concentrations of oxygen, her physician had no choice but to sedate her, intubate her and place her on a ventilator. Ventilators were scarce and in desperation, sometimes had to be shared with as many as three other patients, but Sandy was deteriorating too rapidly to share a ventilator with anyone. That would come later – if she survived. As one of their own, her physicians and fellow nurses were particularly cognizant of her situation.
By mid-morning, Dave was beside himself. He knew that his mother sometimes volunteered to take additional shifts when the need was dire, but she always called him to let him know. However, his texts and calls to her phone went unanswered. School was quickly forgotten as he attempted to locate his mom. Not knowing where she’d been assigned, he attempted to call the Nursing office at Bellevue only to be connected to just about every office but the one he needed. Every nurse was taking care of patients, leaving a skeleton crew of secretaries to answer the phones. Finally, he reached someone who was able to tell him that his mother wasn’t assigned to be working that shift, but that she hadn’t clocked out. In spite of his worsening panic, Dave had the sense to ask for the unit where she’d last been assigned. It took over sixty rings and being disconnected twice before he finally reached the attending physician who was taking care of his mother.
“Is this David Schuster?” the doctor asked.
“Yeah, it is,” Dave answered. “Who is this? Where’s my mom? Is she all right?”
“I’m Doctor Kathleen Vargas,” the Doctor responded, “and I work with your mom. I’m afraid we had to admit her and I’m taking care of her right now.”
“What happened to her?” Dave practically shouted. “Is she gonna die?”
“She has a fever,” Dr. Vargas answered. “Her oxygen level was very low and so we admitted her directly to the ICU. She’s stable, now, but we had to intubate her and put her on a ventilator. Obviously she can’t talk to you now and we have her sedated in any case. We sent off a Covid-19 test and are waiting on the lab for confirmation, but there’s little doubt that she has it. Nevertheless, we started her on antibiotics, just in case she picked up something besides the coronavirus.”
“Can I see her?” Dave asked. “What are the visiting hours?”
“David, I know how tough this must be for you,” Dr. Vargas replied. “The hospital has suspended visiting hours for the duration of the pandemic. There’s too much risk of visitors contracting Covid-19 and spreading it, so we’re under a no-visitor policy, state-wide. Nearly all states have done the same. Don’t even try to come, as you’d be stopped at the door.
“I promise you that I’ll call you at the end of my shift with an update, and I’ll ask the next physician to do the same. You have my word that we’re all doing everything for your mother that can be done. Not that we don’t for all our patients, but your mother was selfless in her work, and she’s one of our own.”
“But isn’t there at least some way I can talk to her or see her?” Dave again asked.
“David, your mother has a breathing tube down her throat. There’s no way a person can tolerate that when they’re awake.” Dr. Vargas continued, “Your mother is heavily sedated and wouldn’t even know that you were here, if you were here, but there’s something equally important. We have to assume that your mother may have infected you as well. I need you to self-quarantine. That means you need to remain in your home and arrange for someone else to bring you your mail and any needed supplies, such as groceries. You should call your primary care physician’s office to arrange for testing and you can discuss with them how long you need to remain in quarantine. In the absence of a negative test, you need to stay in your home for two weeks.
“Do you understand what I’ve told you, David?”
Dave didn’t even bother to answer. Dr. Vargas heard a loud clatter as Dave dropped his phone and it fell to the floor, shattering the screen. The last sound she heard before she disconnected the call and went back to attending to her patients, was the sound of a young teenage boy sobbing. It broke her heart, but there was no time to dwell on it.
Joshua Arens too was beside himself with worry. He and his boyfriend, David Schuster, had been FaceTiming throughout the day, every day, ever since New York City went into lockdown. Usually it was Dave who called Josh, but when Josh hadn’t heard from his boyfriend by 9:00 AM, he tried calling Dave himself, only to have the call go to voicemail. Josh tried sending a text and made several attempts throughout the morning to contact his boyfriend, all of them unsuccessful. When lunchtime rolled around and he still hadn’t heard from Dave, Josh decided to take matters into his own hands, shelter in place orders be damned. He was going to go see his boyfriend.
It was a blustery spring day and so Josh opened the coat closet and grabbed his faux leather jacket. “Could you pick up some more bread, while you’re at it?” Stacy, his middle sister asked as she ate her lunch. Josh enjoyed cooking and did much of the cooking for the family, so it was natural that she assumed he was going grocery shopping.
“Sorry Stace, but I’m not going shopping,” Josh replied.
“You’re not dressed for a run,” Sarah, the oldest sister, observed. Grocery shopping and exercise were just about the only legitimate reasons for people to leave their apartments.
Shaking his head, Josh answered, “I haven’t been able to reach Dave all morning. I have to check on him.” They all knew he wasn’t supposed to have contact outside the family, but none of them questioned him.
“Would you like some lunch before you go, Joshy?” Sarah asked.
Again shaking his head, he answered, “Thanks for the offer, but I’m not hungry.”
“Good luck, Josh,” Robin, the youngest sister and Dave’s best friend, added. “Give him my love too.”
In ordinary times, Josh often had to wait five minutes or more for an elevator to come, but today one arrived within seconds. There was a rule in place for the pandemic, limiting the number of people per elevator to no more than one person or family, but that was seldom an issue. The elevator was empty and Josh stepped right in. Crossing Grand Street, the walk to Dave’s apartment was a short one, as their buildings were scarcely a block apart.
Dave had given Josh a key to the building, so Dave didn’t have go downstairs to let him in. Only the oldest residents still used the original Bell Telephone land lines that could unlock the doors remotely. Taking the elevator to Dave’s floor, Josh first tried the door chime and, getting no response, banged on the door loudly. He banged of the door a second time before Dave answered, opening the door just enough of a crack to call out, “Go away!” Then he slammed the door shut in Josh’s face. Although Josh only got a brief look at one of Dave’s eyes, he could see that he’d been crying.
Josh tried banging on the door and even tried calling his boyfriend while standing outside his door, both to no avail. He shouted through the door, “Dave, I need to see you man. Whatever’s going on, I can help!” He was met with only silence.
Josh knew something had to be up, but without Dave’s cooperation, there was no way to find out more. He didn’t know how to reach Dave’s mother, or even where she was working now. He doubted that any of his friends could get through, but Dave had a couple of uncles in Seattle and Josh thought that perhaps they could get through to him. The problem was that although Josh had met them when they visited back in February, he didn’t even know their last names, let alone how to reach them. Thinking that maybe his youngest sister would remember something, he called her.
“Josh, what’s up?” she answered. Josh usually texted his sister rather than calling her, so she knew something more serious was going on. “Were you able to talk to Dave?” she asked.
“He opened the door just wide enough to tell me to go away, then slammed it shut,” Josh answered, “but I could see he’s been crying. Something must be up, maybe with his mom. Could you try calling him, and then call me right back, Sis?” he asked.
“If he wouldn’t answer you, he won’t answer me either, but I’ll give it a try,” she responded before hanging up her phone. Moments later, she called back to report, “His phone goes straight to voice mail. He must’ve turned his phone off.”
“Do you know if any of his neighbors has a key?” Josh asked.
“If they do, he never told me about it,” Robin responded, and then added, “His uncles probably would know.”
“That’s what I was thinking,” Josh agreed, “but I don’t even know their last names, let alone how to contact them. I know they live in Seattle, but that could mean Bellingham, Tacoma, or Everett, for that matter.”
“Or Redmond,” Robin pointed out, then added, “Listen, Dave’s mother’s maiden name is Simon. I remember that because he once mentioned how people joked that his parents should have opened their own publishing house. After all, they were Simon and Schuster.” It took Josh a moment to make the connection, but then he remembered seeing Simon & Schuster embossed on the spines of some of his textbooks. “So I’d wager that Dave’s mom’s brother is named Alan Simon, spelled ‘A-L-A-N’,” she continued.
“How did you remember that?” Josh asked his sister.
“That one’s easy,” she replied. “When Dave and I met, I happened to mention how it irked me that people always misspell my name, spelling it with two ‘B’s, like the bird, and he told me how his Uncle Alan had the same complaint, ’cause everyone always was spelling it with two ‘L’s and an ‘E’ instead of an ‘A’. So that’s why I remember it. I also remember that his uncle’s the vice-president of software design for one of Microsoft’s major products… I think it’s Office, or something like that.
“Now his Uncle Alan’s husband, Peter, took the same last name, Simon! I remember that ’cause I sat next to him at dinner and we got to talking. He’s estranged from his family, so he actually wanted a new last name. I also found out that he was a software engineering at Boeing and he got canned in response to the MACS disaster that caused the 737-Max crashes. He was pretty pissed too, ’cause he designed the software for a very different airplane and it was management that decided to adapt it to the Max. He’s still looking for work too. His expertise is pretty specialized.”
“Wow, Sis,” Josh responded. “I can’t believe you got all that info, and you remember it all!”
“It’s just my innate charm,” Robin answered, “and my incredible intellect.”
“Yeah, right,” Josh responded, although he believed that was exactly what it was. Like Josh, she was incredibly smart, but she was much better at recalling details, and she was significantly better at dealing with social situations. “Now, I just need to track one of them down.”
“Leave that to me, Josh,” Robin replied. “It’ll take you forever to find them on your phone. It’ll be much easier for me to do it on my laptop, and let’s face it, I’m better at it than you are.” Josh couldn’t help but laugh. He knew she was absolutely right. “You stay where you are,” she continued. “You can keep tabs on Dave in case he opens the door, or maybe a neighbor’ll happen by and know who has a key.”
Josh thanked his sister profusely and then terminated the call. The seconds seemed to tick by more slowly than Josh had ever experienced as he slid down onto the floor in front of Dave’s front door. It seemed as if hours had passed before his phone rang, so he was shocked to see that it had only been eight minutes. He didn’t recognize the number, but it was a number in Seattle and so he took the call. “Hello?”
“Hey Josh, It’s Peter, Dave’s uncle,” Peter began. “Listen, I spoke with Robin and then tried calling Dave, but as I’m sure you’re aware, his phone goes straight to voicemail. I’m sure he has it turned off. What seemed most likely to me is that his mother was hospitalized and it’s probably for Covid-19. Why else would he act that way? Since I knew she was working at Bellevue, I called the hospital and asked for admitting. Because both Alan and I are listed as healthcare proxies, I had no trouble confirming that my sister-in-law was admitted to one of the makeshift ICUs…”
“Fuck,” Josh interrupted.
“My sentiments exactly,” Peter agreed, “and Alan and I will come as soon as we can. Not that we’ll be allowed to see her any more than Dave can, but our nephew needs us right now. He needs you too, even if only from a distance.” The comment on distance didn’t even register with Josh, however. He was focused entirely on his worry for his boyfriend. Peter continued, “Listen, Josh, could you please try to get Dave’s attention? Would you let him know you have me on the phone, and that I’ve been in contact with the hospital? Let him know I’d like to talk to him.”
Josh stood up and resumed banging on the door, and called out, “Dave, I have your uncle on the phone. He got through to the hospital.” Before Josh could say anything more, the door flew open and Dave, dressed only in his boxers, grabbed his boyfriend’s smartphone from out of his hands and shouted into it, “Uncle Alan? Oh, hey Uncle Pete.”
Neither boy was thinking and as Dave walked back into his apartment, talking with his Uncle Peter along the way, Josh followed his boyfriend inside, closing the door behind them. Josh put his arm around Dave as he continued to speak into Josh’s phone, but Josh could only catch bits and pieces of the conversation from listening to his boyfriend’s end of it.
Finally, Dave ended the call and only as he turned to face Josh did he realize that he was there with him, inside his apartment. “What the fuck are you doing here?” he practically shouted into Josh’s face.
“What do you mean by, ‘What the fuck am I doing here?’,” Josh asked. “I’m your boyfriend and I love you. Right now we need to be together, social distancing be damned.”
“You don’t understand,” Dave replied. “Mom’s in the ICU and on a ventilator. She’s got it, Josh. She’s got Covid-19. She’s stable, but barely, and what they’re not telling me is just how worried the doctors are. Most people have it for weeks before it goes into pneumonia. She’s got it with pneumonia… pneumonia serious enough to require a ventilator, right away.
“But she’s probably had it for a while, Josh. She’s been living here with me, doing her best to keep to herself, but all that time we were sharing the same space. There’s a good chance I have it too, so I have to self-quarantine. I have to stay in the apartment by myself for at least the next two weeks to be sure I don’t have it… or to let it run its course if I do. The problem is that now you’ve had close contact with me, and we know that even asymptomatic carriers can spread the disease. That’s why I tried to get you to go away. I didn’t want to take a chance that you’d get it. But now we have to assume you may have it. You have to self-quarantine too.”
“Can’t you be tested?” Josh asked. “Can’t we be tested?”
“I need to call my doctor to find out if I can, and how,” Dave replied, “but even health care workers have had trouble getting tested. Even if I can get tested, there’s still a long delay in getting the results. For the time being, you’re stuck here with me.”
“I can think of worse things,” Josh replied before he brought his lips to Dave’s. As their tongues entwined and the kiss deepened, it was almost enough to make Dave forget his despair – almost, but then Josh’s phone rang. “Shit,” he responded as their lips separated. Looking at his phone, he saw that the caller was from Seattle, and he told his boyfriend so, as he handed him his phone.
“Hi Uncle Peter, I know I need to turn my phone back on,” Dave began, but then shifted gears when he heard the voice on the other end of the line. “Uncle Alan! Did Uncle Pete fill you in?”
“Yes, David, he did,” Alan Schuster replied. “I called the hospital, and I spoke with the nurse taking care of your mother too.
“Listen, Uncle Peter and I are booked on Delta via Detroit to JFK, first thing tomorrow morning. I’ll email you the specifics, but we expect to arrive at your place around dinnertime or shortly thereafter, depending on the usual flight delays that sometimes happen.”
“But how is Mom?” Dave asked.
“Well, as you know, she’s in intensive care, on a ventilator and sedated,” Uncle Alan began. She’s stable”
“But I’ve read that more than half of the people who are put on a ventilator die,” Dave interrupted. “Something like eighty percent, and Mom was put on a ventilator right away. I’m so scared I’m gonna lose her, just like I did my dad.” Hearing his nephew’s despair was even harder on Alan than the worry he carried in his own heart for his sister.
“Well keep in mind that most folks who wind up on ventilators are much older than your mother and have other serious medical conditions,” Alan answered. “Also, she was probably incubating the virus for quite some time before she got sick. She was working so hard that she probably ignored symptoms or didn’t notice them until they became overwhelming. Dave, the odds are undoubtedly far in her favor.”
“Thanks for trying, Uncle Alan,” Dave responded, “but I’m old enough to know the odds aren’t in Mom’s favor. Anyway, Josh is with me,” Dave told his uncle. “He barged in while I was talking to Uncle Peter. By the time I got off the phone with him, it was too late.” But then realizing the quarantine restriction also applied to his uncles, Dave shouted, “Oh! You need to stay in a hotel. I was probably exposed and I probably have it! I’m under a self-quarantine.”
“I appreciate what you’re saying, Dave,” Uncle Alan responded, “and it’s good that Josh is there with you, unfortunate though it may be for him, but you’re both only fourteen. I know you feel pretty grown up now, but you’re still kids and I think you understand that too. You need adults to help you through this. You need us.”
As much as he wanted to spare his uncles the forced isolation of a self-quarantine, much less the risk of actually getting Covid-19, the truth was that he really did need his uncles there. Much as he hated it, Dave couldn’t help it when tears came to his eyes and so he sat down on the living room sofa and sobbed as Josh sat with him and held him closely.
Taking his phone back, Josh asked Alan, “How are you guys gonna get from the airport to here?”
“As I’m sure you know, public transportation is a disaster,” Alan answered. “It’s probably one of the reasons Covid-19 spread so far and wide in New York. Even with the subways and buses running virtually empty, the virus can survive on surfaces for days, so public transport’s a non-starter. Likewise for taxis and ride-sharing services.
“Microsoft has a corporate account with Hertz and we’ve been assured that their vehicles are thoroughly disinfected between rentals. As far as parking’s concerned, I’ve arranged to rent a parking space from the East River Co-op.
“So that’s a rather long answer to how we’re gonna get from JFK to your place,” Alan concluded, but then added, “Listen, we have a lot to take care of before we head to the airport tomorrow morning. We’ll call you from the airport to let you know we’re on the way, and please remind Dave to turn his phone on.”
“Will do, Uncle Alan,” Josh answered, and then terminated the call.
Looking around the area, Josh spotted Dave’s phone lying on the floor. Picking it up, he saw that the phone wasn’t just off. The screen was shattered. “God, Davy, you really did a number on your phone.”
With a wry smile, Dave answered, “I figure, if you’re gonna break your phone, you might as well, do a thorough job on it.”
It felt good to Josh to see his boyfriend smiling. Pressing the power button, the phone sprang to life as if nothing had happened to it. The screen wasn’t pretty, but it still worked. In any case, it would have to do until the boys were out of quarantine and could get it fixed.
The first thing Josh did to test it was to phone home and let everyone know what had happened and that he would be staying with Dave for at least the next two weeks. He asked Robin to fill his suitcase with some of his clothes and his toiletries, and to drop it off whenever she had a chance.
Standing up, Josh extended his hand to help Dave get up and said, “C’mon, let’s get you cleaned up, and then we’ll order some dinner from the Ragin’ Cajun. I never had lunch and something tells me you didn’t either, and I’m starved.”
“Is dinner here yet,” Jeff called out from his computer desk in their shared home office. Dr. Jeffrey Franklin was a Nobel Prize-winning astrophysicist and a research scientist at the American Museum of Natural History, on New York’s Upper West Side.
“Let me check,” Paul called back from what was left of their living room. Dr. Paul Moore was the director of the astrophysics lab and the Hayden Planetarium at the museum, and he was Jeff’s boyfriend. He was also the father of Frank Moore, one of the most powerful politicians in the New York State Assembly, and the grandfather of Seth Moore, a sophomore at Stuyvesant High. Indeed, it was because of a lecture that Jeff gave at Stuyvesant that he got back together again with Paul, his first boyfriend from some fifty years ago.
Work had just begun on the extensive renovations that would transform the large, three-bedroom, prewar co-op apartment they shared on the Upper West Side, bringing it into the twenty-first century. The kitchen, adjacent half-bath and entryway had been gutted, exposing the underlying infrastructure. In the end they’d have a large, open eat-in kitchen with modern, retro appliances appropriate to the period when the building was constructed, and they’d gain central air conditioning in the process. Floor-to-ceiling plastic sheets blocked off the gutted kitchen and bathroom from the rest of the apartment, allowing a narrow passageway from the living room, through the adjacent dining room to the front door.
Unfortunately, no sooner had all of the gutting been done than a global stay-at-home order was issued by the governor, forcing all work on the renovations to cease. The wall between the kitchen and living room had already been removed and replaced by temporary plastic sheeting, but fortunately the wall and doorway separating the formal dining room from the living room had not yet been taken down. Hence Jeff and Paul still had a functioning living room and dining room, three bedrooms and the main bathroom. They just didn’t have a working kitchen.
The plan had been for the men to live on takeout food for the couple of months it took to renovate the kitchen and adjacent half-bath, and then they’d live in the living room while the bedrooms and main bath were renovated, but then the work had stopped. As much as a pain in the ass as it was to be without a kitchen, it would’ve been much worse if they’d been forced to sleep in the living room for an indefinite period of time. At least there was some consolation in that, but living on takeout was not only getting to be old, but it was pricey. Even with eating only two meals a day – brunch and dinner – takeout was costing them over a hundred dollars a day for the two of them. Not that they couldn’t afford it, but the cost was adding up. Worse, if the shelter-in-place order continued much longer, they both stood to gain a fair bit of weight.
Paul went to the front door and opened it slightly – just enough to see that dinner had indeed been delivered by ‘contactless delivery’. Paul grabbed the package off the doormat and brought it inside, setting the bag down on the dining room floor and opening it fully, then heading to the main bathroom to wash his hands. The rule of thumb was that all packages were considered contaminated with the virus on the outside but not the inside, and that the virus could survive on paper and cardboard for up to 24 hours. Whereas a package from Amazon could be allowed to sit in the hallway for a day, dinner couldn’t wait and so it needed to be opened, and then hands needed to be washed before handling the contents.
As he passed by the den, Paul ducked his head inside and told his boyfriend, “Dinner’s here.” After thoroughly washing his hands for a full twenty seconds, he returned to the dining room and started placing the individual containers of food on the table, along with the included paper napkins and plastic utensils. Paul felt reassured that he could still smell the food, as the loss of the sense of smell and taste was one of the more common symptoms of Covid-19. Both Paul and Jeff were over sixty and although they didn’t have any significant other risk factors, they weren’t taking any chances on contracting the virus.
As Paul sat down for dinner, Jeff joined him and they both opened the containers of food and dug in. They had a large choice of restaurants for takeout on the Upper West Side. Unfortunately, their absolute favorite, the City Diner, had elected to close rather than remain open for takeout and delivery service. As with a lot of places, they’d found that the fees charged for website orders and delivery by Seamless, GrubHub, Uber and others obliterated the meager profit they could have received. For the City Diner, closing and laying off all their workers was the best way to ensure survival in the long run.
“By the way, I got an email from Freck,” Paul began the conversation as they ate. “He and Kyle expect to finish their coursework at Stuyvesant by the end of April and he was wondering if they could start their internships early.” Freck was thirteen years old and a senior at Stuyvesant High School, as was his eleven-year-old boyfriend, Kyle. They both had planned to intern with the two prominent astrophysicists, and then they would study an extra two years at the High School for Math, Science and Engineering, earning college credit in an environment more suitable to their age, prior to going on to study at MIT.
“Doesn’t the city school year run through mid-June?” Jeff asked.
“Yeah, it does,” Paul replied, “but I guess with everyone studying from home, a lot of the work is independent study, at least for the elite schools anyway. Apparently, Freck and Kyle are making quick work of it.”
“I hadn’t even thought far enough ahead to the summer, or about summer internships in the face of social isolation,” Jeff interjected.
“I’ll admit that there’s something to be lost in working from home, but except for the chance to interact personally with our scientists and graduate students, there’s nothing they can’t do independently from home,” Paul explained. “Freck has a high-end iMac Pro at home that’s even better than yours, and we know he knows how to use Linux, so he could certainly log into the lab workstations from home too. I’m not sure what Kyle has at home, but even if it’s just a tablet or a Chromebook, he could still log into one of the lab workstations and work with your group. I’d bet on him having a high-end MacBook Pro though. The fact that they finished their schoolwork at home so quickly speaks for itself.”
“Yeah, I guess it does,” Jeff admitted. “Still, there’s no substitute for one-on-one interaction.”
“Maybe not, but there’s always FaceTime or Zoom,” Paul pointed out.
Chuckling, Jeff replied, “I know. My students and I are already using Zoom to interact with each other, and although Kyle’s only eleven, he’s at least as smart as the best of them. I need to stop thinking of him as a little kid, even though he looks like one.”
“The same is true of his boyfriend, Freck,” Paul agreed. “My grandson would never let me forget it either.”
“How is Seth doing these days?” Jeff asked.
“He and Asher are hanging in there,” Paul answered. “He’ll be fifteen in June, and Ashe’ll be sixteen very soon. I think his birthday’s coming up in a matter of days now. It’s too bad we can’t do more than send a gift and a card.”
“I’ll never forget the day Asher came up after my lecture to ask a question,” Jeff recalled. “Seth was with him, and he looked so much like you did at that age, at first I thought it really was you.”
“Not likely after a half-century, but it must have been a shock in any case,” Paul added.
“That it was,” Jeff agreed, “but I’m so glad I gave that lecture at Stuyvesant High. I’m so glad your grandson was there, and that he and his boyfriend asked questions. Otherwise, we would have never gotten back together.”
“I’m grateful too,” Paul noted as he patted his boyfriend’s knee.
The sound of a splash alerted Freck that he had company. He’d been swimming laps in the large indoor pool that dominated the lower level of his family’s house in Riverdale. Actually, it was his boyfriend’s family’s house, but he thought of it as his own since he lived there with Kyle, Kyle’s brother, Roger, and their two dads. To his own parents he was little more than a trophy child, although his relationship with his mother had recently started to change, now that she was divorcing his father and had moved with his twin sisters to a brownstone on the Upper West Side. She was actually starting to act more like a real mom, but he was reserving judgement until he saw that the change in attitude was real and permanent.
The feel of a hand groping his dick told Freck that it was Kyle who’d jumped into the pool with him. Turning around, the two boys kissed each other deeply as they treaded water together.
When they came up for air, Freck asked, “Is dinner ready?”
Shaking his head, Kyle answered, “Roger went out for groceries. He said there was nothing left in the house for us to eat.”
“What do you mean, he went out?” Freck asked. “He can’t bring much back on his bicycle, and with the virus and all, it wouldn’t be wise for him to go to the store every day.”
“He took Ken’s car,” Kyle explained, and seeing that his boyfriend was about to protest, he added, “Yes, I know he only just got his learner’s permit. He’s been driving since he was thirteen. The last thing any of us wanted was for our mom to drive to the grocery drunk… not that she could cook anyway. But as long as our mom was in the car, drunk or not, no one ever stopped Roger during his short runs to the store.”
Roger had recently turned sixteen, the minimum age for a learner’s permit in New York, but with the minimum age for getting an actual license in the city being seventeen, it would be another year before Roger could get one. However, his exceptional height gave him a distinct advantage, as he could easily pass for seventeen or even eighteen; hence as long as he kept to the speed limit, the likelihood of his being stopped on the short drive to the nearby Key Foods Market was miniscule. It wasn’t the best place to shop in Riverdale and its environs, but it was close and convenient, and for decent meat, there was the adjacent Kosher Market – not that the Goldsteins kept kosher, but there was no comparison when it came to quality.
Of necessity, Roger was the family cook, since their mom had been too drunk to cook for her kids and now that she was sober but out of the house, that left the two dads, who were always at work until the late evening. Although his meals were simple, Roger’s cooking was adequate. Since the pandemic hit, both dads were always at the hospital until very late, eating all their meals at the hospital and coming home only to sleep. Now more than ever, the three boys depended on Roger for all their meals.
“Wanna have some fun while we wait for Roger to get back?” Kyle suggested as seductively as an eleven-year-old boy could.
“You know I’m always up for that,” his thirteen-year-old boyfriend readily agreed.
Getting out of the pool, their raging erections leading the way, they lay down together on a lounge chair and started making out in earnest. Kyle was almost entirely a bottom and it wasn’t long before Freck was buried deep inside of him, screaming with his release. Although Kyle was still too young to ejaculate, he had long enjoyed the pleasure derived from intimacy with his boyfriend.
Hearing the sound of the door to the garage opening upstairs, the boys cleaned themselves up and headed up to help put the groceries away, and to chat with Roger as he got dinner ready. As they lived in a household of guys and had complete privacy, even when in the back yard, and since the dads were out of the house most of the time anyway, the boys didn’t bother to get dressed. Actually, they had no qualms with regard to modesty and other than during videoconferences with classmates and teachers, hadn’t worn a stitch of clothing in nearly a month. Roger, on the other hand, was much more modest and undressed only to shower.
“Need some help with that?” Freck asked as they spotted Roger carrying a couple of grocery bags in from the garage.
“Yeah, everything needs to be disinfected before it’s put away,” Roger answered. “I put a container of disinfectant wipes on the counter, but use them sparingly, ’cause that’s all we have. I’ll bring in the rest of the bags. If you guys could wipe everything down thoroughly and place them on the island, I’ll put everything away from there. Then lay the bags flat and I’ll throw them in the wash,” he added as an afterthought.
“You got it, Bro,” Kyle replied and was rewarded with a middle finger from Roger, who hated being called ‘Bro’. He and Freck each grabbed a disinfectant wipe and began taking items out of the grocery bags and wiping them down. Since Roger had bought enough food to last a month or more, it took over an hour to disinfect everything.
When he got to a prepackaged tub of guacamole, Freck opened it, grabbed a box of whole wheat crackers and began to devour it. Kyle quickly joined in.
“Hey!” Roger cried out. “That’s meant to be a between-meal snack… not a main course.” I’ll have dinner ready soon.”
“Not nearly soon enough,” Kyle countered. “We haven’t eaten since lunch.”
“At least let me make some soup and sandwiches to go with that,” Roger admonished his sib. “Just let me put away the perishables, then I’ll get dinner on.”
“By making some soup, I trust you mean opening a can,” Kyle countered.
“I’ll heat some of the butternut squash you like that comes in a box,” Roger responded, “and for the sandwiches, I’ll make tuna melts with Swiss on rye.”
“Starkist tuna?” Freck asked as a tease. It hadn’t been long after he’d moved in with the family that he pointed out that Starkist ranked dead last in sustainability and fair trade, with fish often bought from alleged Thai slave ships.
“You know better than that, Freck,” Roger responded. “You’d never let me live it down,” he added as he got out a couple cans of Wild Planet albacore tuna. Opening both cans, he mixed in a little mayonnaise and a bit of spicy brown mustard and spread the mixture on three large slices of rye bread. Heating a teaspoon of canola oil on a large griddle, he added the slices and then placed a slice of Swiss cheese on top of each, followed by a sprinkle of oregano. At the same time, he filled a small saucepan with the butternut squash soup and heated it over a medium flame. In a matter of minutes, both the soup and the sandwiches were ready.
Asher and Seth were both spending the evening at the Ragin’ Cajun, preparing dinners for hungry New Yorkers to enjoy at home. Having picked up Cajun cooking from his dad, who was a black Creole from New Orleans, and Asian cooking from his mom, an Asian American from Queens, what started out as a desperate attempt to help out when his mother was injured had led to a review from the New York Times that called the Ragin’ Cajun the best Cajun restaurant outside of New Orleans. In truth, Asher’s inventive style of Asian-Cajun fusion had earned him the right to be considered one of the top chefs in New York. Yet he was not quite sixteen and still a sophomore at Stuyvesant High School.
Because of its proximity to the Delancey & Essex subway station, the restaurant still did a brisk takeout business, primarily from first responders and healthcare personnel. Under the pandemic shelter-in-place orders, however, the lion’s share of their business was from the delivery of made-to-order, certified virus-free dinners throughout Manhattan and close-in Brooklyn and Queens. Cooking thermometers were used to ensure that all items were cooked to virus-killing temperatures and then they were assembled into compartmentalized sterile plastic containers and sealed shut. These were then placed inside paper delivery bags which were taped closed, and then a ‘contents certified virus-free’ sticker was applied. Deliveries, which used to be made by hired couriers on bicycle, were now made by Seamless, Grub Hub and Uber Eats. Those services were much more expensive, but far safer in preventing spread of the virus. To cover the additional cost, the boys added an automatic 25% gratuity that patrons could opt out of at checkout. Very few did.
Tonight, Seth’s mind was on preparations for Asher’s sixteenth birthday, which was coming up in a matter of days, on Friday the seventeenth. With the lockdown in force, they couldn’t go to see a movie, at least not in a theater, nor could he take Asher to see a Broadway or Off-Broadway show. There was no way they could have a party either. Seth considered holding a Zoom party, but what would’ve been the point? Should he have cake and ice cream delivered to all their friends? It was a thought, but perhaps doing so would serve more to remind them how they were apart rather than together.
It was just as Seth was thinking about the gift he’d gotten Asher for his birthday, a gold and silver gentleman’s bracelet, that a group of five men wearing Federal Marshall’s jackets literally barged into the restaurant. In contrast to Seth and Asher, who were both wearing N95 masks and gloves, the agents were wearing no such protective gear.
“Everyone stop what you’re doing and put your hands where we can see them,” one of the men began as he flashed his badge, far to quickly for anyone to see if it was legitimate. Asher and Seth looked at each other, wondering where they were coming from, as ‘everyone’ was just the two of them. “Step away from the equipment and remove your masks so that we can see your faces.”
“Are we under arrest?” Seth asked.
“No, provided you cooperate fully,” the same man answered. “This facility and all contents are subject to seizure by the U.S. Federal Marshals.” The agent handed Seth a folded document that he presumed was the warrant.
“If you’ll let me get my phone, I have the right to call my attorney,” Seth interjected.
“You have the right to an attorney if you are under arrest,” the agent countered. “You’re not under arrest.”
“I have the right to have an attorney present during questioning or during the execution of a search warrant,” Seth challenged.
“You are neither being interrogated, nor searched,” the agent countered. “This entire building and its contents are subject to seizure. You must leave the premises immediately.”
“If you don’t let me turn off the gas, your seized building will be a burned-out shell,” Asher interrupted.
Shaking his head, the agent said, “We’ll take care of it, and we’ll even be shutting off all utilities, so there’s no risk of it burning down.
“Now take off your masks so we can see your faces, then get out of here.” The boys complied as quickly as they could, donning their jackets and throwing their street clothes into a bag to take with them.
As soon as they were outside the restaurant, both boys pulled out their phones and called their respective parents. Asher reached his father, who told him that the Asian takeout restaurant on Grand Street had also been seized, and Seth reached his own father, who was already aware of both seizures and had been in contact with their attorney.
The plans for Asher’s birthday were quickly forgotten.
The sound of a chime woke both David and Josh at what seemed to be an ungodly hour in the middle of the night. David reached for his phone and slowly began to remember the events of the previous day, when he noticed that the screen on his phone was badly cracked. Next to him, Josh squirmed, having slept poorly from both sleeping in a strange bed and from not being used to the dull rumble of the M and J Trains as they traversed the nearby Williamsburg bridge.
“What is it, Babe?” Josh asked.
Looking at his phone and noticing what was on his lock screen, Dave replied, “Looks like I got a text from Uncle Peter.” Opening his phone, he tapped on the notification to bring up the message. “He says that he and Uncle Alan are on board the plane and they got upgraded to first class. Nice. He says there are only seven other passengers besides them on the whole fuckin’ A220, so they’ll be takin’ off a little early. The flight attendants are all wearing masks and gloves, and the passengers are spaced out in first class. There are almost as many flight attendants as passengers too. They’ll text us when they get to Detroit.”
“Uncle Peter really referred to it as a fuckin’ A220?” Josh asked with a bemused expression on his face.
“I added ‘fuckin’’, Dave replied.
“Undoubtedly a side effect of all the fuckin’ we did last night,” Josh interjected, and they both laughed. Indeed, they’d made love well into the early morning hours, so it hadn’t been all that long since they finally went to sleep. Sex had been the last thing on Dave’s mind when they got into bed, yet when they hugged and kissed, they were quickly overcome by the passion of the moment. For a brief time they’d been able to forget about the madness around them.
“What time is it?” Josh asked.
Looking at his phone, Dave answered, “8:55.”
“Shit, I thought their flight was much earlier than that,” Josh replied.
“Keep in mind, it’s only 5:55 in Seattle,” Dave reminded his boyfriend.
“Oh right,” Josh admitted. “I forgot the time difference.”
“You wanna go back to sleep?” Dave asked.
Shaking his head, Josh answered, “Nah, I’m wide awake now.”
“Same here,” Dave agreed. Then sitting up on the edge of his bed and holding his phone in front of him, he said, “Let me see if I can get an update on my Mom.”
Dialing the direct number for the nurses station where his mom had been working when she fell ill. He asked the secretary if she could find someone who could give him an update on his mom’s condition. He was shocked when someone came on the line right away.
“Is this David Schuster?” she asked.
“Yeah, this is Dave,” he answered. “Are you her nurse?”
“Actually, I’m her attending physician, Dr. Rao,” She answered. “I’m afraid your mothers condition worsened a bit overnight. That’s actually not unusual with Covid-19 and it doesn’t necessarily portend a worse outcome. She remains on a ventilator of course and will probably need to remain on one for the next couple of weeks. We’ll try proning her today… that’s positioning her on her stomach, which seems to improve ventilation. We’re also going to try to get her enrolled in one of the drug trials in which NYU is a participant. Do you have any questions about any of this?”
Dave was so overwhelmed that it was nearly fifteen seconds before he realized he’d been asked a question.
“Is she gonna die?” Dave blurted out.
“Dave, we’re doing everything possible to make sure she doesn’t,” the doctor answered. “She doesn’t have any comorbidities or risk factors, and she’s young. The prognosis in people like your mother is actually quite good, even when they require a ventilator. Everyone is different when it comes to the course of infection but she’s getting the best care anyone could get in the world.”
“Would you let me know if her condition changes?” Dave asked.
“Would you like me to call you on this number?” She asked.
“Yes please,” Dave answered.
“I’ll be sure to keep you apprised, either way,” the doctor responded.
Dave couldn’t help it when the tears came to his eyes as he ended the call. The thought that he could actually lose his mother was overwhelming and it didn’t help that he couldn’t even visit her in the ICU. Worse still, he was confined to his apartment, which large as it was, seemed way to small now. Thank God his uncles were on their way. Thank God for Joshy.
Seeing the tears in his boyfriend’s eyes, Josh sat next to him on the bed and put his arm around Dave’s shoulders. Dave melted into him and sobbed for several minutes, until he ran out of tears.
“Are you saying that we could go to prison?” Seth asked, incredulous that the Feds, in their vindictiveness against his father, would go after him and Asher. The two boys along with Frank and Julie Moore were in the Moore’s Lower East Side apartment, all huddled around the 27-inch iMac that dominated their den. They were involved in a videoconference with the Moore’s attorney, Dalton, Asher’s parents, Gary and Beatrice White, and the Whites’ attorney and Beatrice’s brother, Charley Fung. Had it not been for the pandemic, they probably would have all gotten together in one of the lawyers’ offices or perhaps in the Moore home, but social distancing meant they were all conferencing from their respective homes. It made the meeting much more awkward to say the least, as the normal cues one got from body language were largely filtered out by the technology.
“I did warn you that your marriage did little to shelter your assets from the Feds, while opening up the risk that you could be tried as adults,” Dalton pointed out. Seth and Asher had in fact obtained a court order, allowing them to marry when Asher was only fifteen and Seth was just fourteen. Believing that marriage put their college funds as well as other personal assets and the Moore apartment out of reach of the Feds, they were quickly learning otherwise. The reality was that it did little to protect the boys’ assets nor the Moore home, which was in their name, and it actually put the White’s two restaurants and their own home at risk. Further, it effectively emancipated the boys, putting them squarely in the Feds’ crosshairs and stripping them of the protections they would have had as minors. As Dalton told them after they’d hired him, it had been a colossal mistake.
“You boys should consider getting your own attorney,” Dalton added. “Your interests could potentially be different than those of your parents. You need someone who’ll represent you and you alone.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Seth replied, and Asher nodded his head in agreement. “I’d rather lose everything than lose either set of parents.”
“Even if it means going to prison?” Dalton asked.
“I’d rather lose everything than see my sons go to prison,” Gary countered. “I’d rather go to prison myself than see my boys end up in jail.” Seth loved the way Gary considered him to be his son too.
“Same here,” Frank chimed in. “Not that I’d want to be thrown under the bus, but the priority must be on the boys. Dalton, as far as I’m concerned, you represent my children too, and they are the priority.”
“Very well, but if it ever reaches the point where I feel I can no longer provide unbiased representation to both parties, I may have to insist on separate representation for the boys,” Dalton replied.
“Fair enough,” Frank agreed. “So, what do we know?”
“Not nearly enough,” Dalton replied. “Thanks, by the way, for scanning and sending me copies of the warrants. It’s often taking days to get my own copies, not that I can’t simply go after them myself. In any case, the warrants say nothing of why they were executed.
“In any case, with the Ragin’ Cajun, we know that the entire building was seized, so that undoubtedly had something to do with Sam Weinstein’s malfeasance. That doesn’t explain why the place on Grand Street was taken, but the Federal racketeering statutes give broad authority to seize assets in corruption cases, even before the indictments are handed down. Personally, I don’t think it’s constitutional as it violates due process, but the Supreme Court has respectfully disagreed.”
“Does that mean my sister’s family is about to be indicted?” Mr. Fung asked.
“Not at all,” Dalton replied. “The Fed’s can hold seized properties indefinitely, as long as there’s an active investigation. It’s effectively a blanket license for the Feds to blackmail and coerce innocent third parties into cooperating with their investigation.”
“Like that’s gonna happen,” Gary responded.
“They can put us out of business,” Charlie Fung pointed out. “They can bankrupt us.”
“Not only that, but you can’t sue them once it’s over,” Dalton chimed in. “Well, you can, but you’ll lose. They only have to return your seized assets to you, just in time for your landlord to take them in foreclosure.”
“It’s a cooperative building, so it would be an eviction,” Charlie pointed out, which actually gives you more protection than you’d have if you were fighting the bank over foreclosure.”
“You can apply for a small business loan under the recovery act,” Frank suggested. “Technically, they can’t turn you down unless you’re actually convicted of a Federal crime, and the way the law’s written, the loan can be forgiven, so you never have to give it back. The co-op can’t evict you while you’re under lockdown either.”
“That’s all well and good,” Gary responded, “but as shareholders in the cooperative, we need to avoid earning the wrath of our neighbors. When businesses don’t pay their rent, everyone suffers for it.”
“Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that,” Frank replied, “but as your state assemblyman, I can assure you that you’d be far from the only member of the cooperative seeking to postpone payment of their rent.
“And Dalton,” Frank continued, “Let’s find out what can be done to settle the corruption case quickly and without further collateral damage. I’ll do whatever it takes to keep my sons and the Whites out of prison, and to get their restaurants back.”
“I’ll put out feelers,” Dalton responded, “but you won’t like the terms. The Feds won’t accept any plea that doesn’t involve jail time as the price for letting your family off the hook. That’s the whole reason they’re going after them. The U.S. Attorney on the case has been playing hardball and the seizures are a part of his strategy. My guess is that the case they were building around Sam Weinstein’s testimony fell apart, so this is their ‘Plan B’.
“The building where the Ragin’ Cajun was is out of our hands. That’s Sam Weinstein’s mess. You’ll have to look for another location, if you can still get a license to reopen. We should first try to get them to release the place on Grand Street. If we can get that, we can probably get a permit for the Ragin’ Cajun in a new location, too. Unfortunately, this isn’t a matter that can be resolved by the health department. This isn’t a local issue and the U.S. Attorney isn’t playing by the same rules. I doubt he’ll give up the leverage he has by threatening to bankrupt the Whites without getting significant concessions in return. He’s looking for a plea, and he probably won’t budge until he gets one.”
Disclaimer: This story is a fictional account involving gay teenage and pre-teen boys. There are references to gay sex and anyone who is uncomfortable with this should obviously not be reading it. The reader takes all responsibility for the legality of reading this type of story where they live. All characters are fictional and any resemblance to real people is purely coincidental. Although reference is made to the political figures, any resemblance to a particular figure, past, present or future, is unintentional. As always, opinions expressed by characters in the story represent the opinions of the characters and are not representative of those of the author nor the sites to which the story has been posted. The author retains full copyright.